OMAHA, Neb. – When the Florida Gators’ plane lands here Thursday afternoon, head baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan and assistant coach Don Norris will be the only two affiliated with the team who are familiar with the territory – historic Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, home of the College World Series.
The youth of this Gators team, which matured quickly during this 47-15 season, has been well-documented. But in this case, even the upperclassmen will be somewhere they have never been before.
It will be O’Sullivan’s fourth trip to the College World Series, the previous three coming when he served as the pitching coach at Clemson, which is one of the seven other teams here for the two-bracket, double-elimination tournament that will decide the two finalists for the best-of-3 championship series.
For O’Sullivan, there is no baseball environment that replicates what Rosenblatt Stadium does.
“From the smell of the funnel cakes to just watching the guys’ faces when they see Rosenblatt for the first time when they walk in,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s just special.”
This one will be a little different for O’Sullivan. During the previous three trips, Clemson head coach Jack Leggett went to the press conferences and had the pressure on him as the head coach.
Now, it’s O’Sullivan’s turn.
“To be a head coach and going there for the first time (as one), it’s obviously extra special,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m happy for the players because no one on this team has been to Omaha. I know what they’re going to go through. It’s a chance of a lifetime.”
His experience in Omaha will also benefit the players. The hype around Omaha will be high, and the level of excitement was even noticeable through the town Wednesday night. Final preparations at the stadium were being done in the stands and on the field.
The sun fell lightly as it set on the planetarium of the Henry Doorly Zoo that sits behind the right field bleachers.
While the excitement around Omaha was noticeable Wednesday back in Gainesville, O’Sullivan knows that his players need to stay focused on the task at hand.
“We’re trying to give them as much information as we possibly can to let them know what to expect,” O’Sullivan said. “That is a factor. It’s a huge part of it. It’s our job to explain to them what to expect so that maybe it’s not as much of a distraction. With a young team, that’s going to be a huge hurdle to overcome.”
When the team lands Thursday, they will have some time to relax. But Friday is another story.
Their designated practice time Friday morning is at 11 a.m. CDT, followed by meetings and an autograph session. The team will take pictures and attend a dinner before heading to the opening ceremonies Friday night.
Oh yeah, and they play the next day.
“You’ve got to enjoy that,” O’Sullivan said. “I don’t want to take anything away from (Friday) because it’s a great day for these players. But then instantly it changes the next day where you’ve got to be able to change your attention to UCLA.”
O’Sullivan’s best memory from Omaha is when Clemson took on the Nebraska Cornhuskers. With Lincoln only an hour away, Nebraska fans created a sea of red in the stands. But the Tigers won a back-and-forth game 10-9 in an atmosphere O’Sullivan can only describe as “electric.”
“There are so many things you take away from the experience,” O’Sullivan said. “The remarkable thing is, no matter who is playing, there is always 27,000 people there.”
While the preparations for the final College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium are coming to a close, the Gators were still back in Gainesville, staying loose, as they have been all year. Kevin Chapman, Chas Spottswood and Matt den Dekker patrolled the McKethan Stadium field 20 minutes before practice started, armed with squirt guns to shoot players being interviewed.
“I know we’re not going to put any pressure on them,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ll let them be who they are and grab their attention before the game. I’m not going to change things from what they’re doing all year long.”
It sure has worked so far.
NCAA DIVISION I BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
COLLEGE WORLD SERIES / Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium / Omaha, Neb. / June 19-30
Saturday, June 19
Game 1: Texas Christian (51-12) vs. Florida State (47-18), 2 p.m. (ESPNHD)
Game 2: (3) Florida (47-15) vs. (6) UCLA (48-14), 7 p.m. (ESPNHD)
Monday, June 21
Game 5: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Elimination game
Game 6: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 9 p.m. (ESPN2HD)
Wednesday, June 23
Game 9: Winner Game 5 vs. Loser Game 6, 7 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Elimination game
Friday, June 25
Game 11: Winner Game 6 vs. Winner Game 9, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Possible elimination game. If Winner Game 6 wins Game 11, it moves into Championship Series and Loser Game 11 is eliminated; if Winner Game 6 loses, teams play Saturday, June 26 at 2 p.m.
Saturday, June 26
Game 13: Winner Game 11 vs. Loser Game 11, 2 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Winner to Championship Series, loser eliminated.
Sunday, June 20
Game 3: Oklahoma (48-16) vs. South Carolina (48-15), 2 p.m. (ESPNHD)
Game 4: (1) Arizona State (52-8) vs. Clemson (43-23), 7 p.m. (ESPNHD)
Tuesday, June 22
Game 7: Loser Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Elimination game
Game 8: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4, 9 p.m. (ESPN2HD)
Thursday, June 24
Game 10: Winner Game 7 vs. Loser Game 8, 7 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Elimination game
Friday, June 25
Game 12: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 10, 9 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Possible elimination game. If Winner Game 8 wins Game 12, it moves into Championship Series and Loser Game 12 is eliminated; if Winner Game 8 loses, teams play Saturday, June 26 at 2 or 7 p.m.
Saturday, June 26
Game 13/14: Winner Game 12 vs. Loser Game 12, 2 or 7 p.m. (ESPN2HD). Winner to Championship Series, loser eliminated.
CHAMPIONSHIP / Best-of-3 series
Monday, June 28
Game 1: Bracket I winner vs. Bracket II winner, 7:30 p.m. ET
Tuesday, June 29
Game 2: Bracket I winner vs. Bracket II winner, 7:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, June 30
Game 3: Bracket I winner vs. Bracket II winner, if necessary, 7:30 p.m. ET